Every morning I begin with a neatly ordered to-do lists of goals for the day. But when the students arrived in my therapy room, those expectations for the day must apply to meaningful interactions with my students. Helping a child to generalize their speech production feels the same. We start with goals and hierarchies. Then we have to show the child that the structured practice they’ve received is integral to their phone call to a friend, the letter sounds they learn, the part they play in the school musical. How do we help children apply goals into their everyday life?
Generalization is individual to the student, but here are strategies that I’ve found useful in helping students make the transition.
Use a visual to help students to track their progress. I use a speech thermometer with levels in their hierarchy from sounds in isolation to unstructured conversation that the student can color when the level is mastered.
Choose high frequency words that will carry over easily into real life conversations. Write down words the child says in conversation, everyday phrases they like to use and names of family, friends and favorite places then practice these words in therapy.
Have your students spell target words in speech therapy out loud. Have them practice their lists of spelling words before their test in therapy with you focusing on their target sounds.
Work on practicing class presentations and reader’s theaters in sessions. If they need to memorize the presentation, all the more opportunity for real-life repetitive practice.
Contact the parents and work with them to integrate practice into their everyday life. Each family’s routines will determine the best strategies that work for them, whether short car conversations or taping target words to the bathroom mirror.
Have the child track their own data at whatever level they are working on. Giving the child ownership of the data will increase their awareness of correct versus incorrect production which is essential to fixing sounds in everyday conversations.
Collaborate with teachers to bridge the literacy gap. Encourage teachers to cue speech production in class while providing additional reading practice in therapy. For example, ask if you could display phonetic posters in your therapy room or have students decode words containing their target sounds.
Use highly structured phrases in therapy games to facilitate generalization. In Go Fish, you could have a child working on /v/ consistently ask “do you have a ___ card?”
We all have those proud speech therapist moments that keep us going for weeks. My most recent moment was last week when one of my students sat in his own IEP meeting and confidently told his speech therapy team “I believe I can get myself out of speech by next year.” I was thrilled that he felt he was responsible for graduating himself from speech therapy as opposed to passively accepting my ability to fix the disorder. But at the same time, this student and his parents trust my ability to scaffold his progress. What does it look like to encourage carryover? These are the 10 practical strategies that have worked well in my sessions.
Get out of the therapy room. Go on a field trip around the school looking for objects with their speech sound. Or have the child greet or have short conversations with the staff using accurate sound production. This method also serves to educate the staff on your students’ goals and your role in their educational success.
It’s real life, so it’s bound to be a little messier than the drill foundation necessary for establishing sound production. Let’s send students out into those real-life conversations prepared to take ownership of their own sound production!